Ongoing landlord/tenant issues...not sure if I am cut out for this????
March 22, 2010 8:07 AM   Subscribe

I am a "small-time" real estate started in my early 20's (10 years ago)...thought it was a good way to live in a better house/better neighborhood as a single woman. I owner-occupy one of my units and rent out the other building entirely.

I am one of many victims of the real estate bubble and now, 2 rental properties with higher balances than I could sell them for...likewise, while I felt at one point, I could be picky about my tenants, I now tend to be more lax in terms of who I take and what I deal with bcs I feel more desperate to keep the units rented. FOr the past several years, I have had a string of renters that have given me nothing but headaches...yes, they do pay rent on time, but they are habitual rule breakers and generally difficult to get along with.

I am a very timid person and tend to be "nice"...I can write wonderful letters that are firm and enforce rules, but when it comes to enforcing them, I go soft when face to face with tenants. I have looked into going the property management route, but it is not cost wise for my small fact, I handle the financial business side of the rental just fine (collecting rents, etc.), but it is the interpersonal stuff that gets me down. Unfortunately, I don't think it helps that I am a single woman, and a seems to rub people the wrong way (seriously) as if a man is more suited to be a landlord, and/or, that some non-minorities don't want to rent from a minority woman (sense of entitlement perhaps?), with all I have put on the table, what direction would you head? I did attempt to sell at one point, but it did not get me we all know, I can't count on being able to sell anytime soon. I really appreciate all comments as this is a real burden for me!
posted by mdn31 to Human Relations (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What you need is a little 'muscle', someone that you can informally pay a few bucks ($20) to drop by and 'remind' people about the rules. A good friend or acquaintance. Someone who doesn't mind the f2f interactions.

If you lived in my town, I'd do it for you. :)
posted by unixrat at 8:22 AM on March 22, 2010

I would suggest writing financial penalties into the contracts for rules violations. Warning the first time, small penalty ($5) the second time, larger penalty ($20) the third, bigger and bigger the more violations, and move it up gradually. It may not stop the renters from breaking the rules, but it will penalize them for doing so, plus it might make it more tolerable on your part when you are getting extra money out of it.
posted by I am the Walrus at 8:33 AM on March 22, 2010

If you do get someone to do the person to person work for you make sure it is clear to your tenants who they need to talk to , it would be frustrating as a renter to not know exactly who to contact with issues.

For what it's worth I have had three female landlords, one who was a single younger lady. Compared to the other two ladies she was a bit of a pushover and I could imagine her getting burned with less conscientious renters.
posted by ghharr at 8:38 AM on March 22, 2010

So I guess my point on that last bit is that you can probably more afford to be nice if you're a lot more careful in vetting who you rent to
posted by ghharr at 8:41 AM on March 22, 2010

There's not enough information about your properties in your post to make specific suggestions, but, depending on the characteristics of the properties, you might consider taking them condo. You'd basically be changing your role from a landlord to a real estate developer, taking on additional loans against the property value to refurbish/redevelop the units, and then offer them for sale, as condos, to the condo end of the housing market (singles, retirees, first time homebuyers, etc.) You might offer existing tenants their units, unrefurbished, at some discount to developed units you'll put on the market at "retail" prices, in order to get early sales on some units, and ease out your renters.

It's basically another way of selling your properties in a tight commercial real estate market, by finding a way to sell them as residential inventory, unit by unit. If you want to investigate this further, you might get in touch with a volunteer business advisor with real estate development experience in your local office of SCORE. They'd be able to walk you through this process, with specifics on your local real estate environment, codes, and market.
posted by paulsc at 8:47 AM on March 22, 2010

but they are habitual rule breakers and generally difficult to get along with.

Can we have an example? I mean, do you go up to the tenant and say, Tenant, you did X, stop it, and then they slam the door in your face or do they yes you to death and then ignore you? Or are you unable to deal with them face to face at all?
posted by crankylex at 8:50 AM on March 22, 2010

A note on the suggestions from I Am The Walrus:

While these lease penalties are a good idea economically, at least several states outlaw them outright. Check with a real estate lawyer in your state before trying it.
posted by Citrus at 9:09 AM on March 22, 2010

I'm out of my depth here, having never been a landlord, but I've had some disputes with my (female) landlord that I think were caused by her approach rather than her gender. Basically, we were negotiating over the price of a parking spot, and a series of small, negotiable repairs (broken floor slats, heaters, blah blah).

I felt like the following things made her ineffective:
1) Generally not being present in the building; preferring maintenance to take place outside of her presence; delegating authority to people unprepared to handle it (i.e. a repairman who wasn't sure what the owner would pay for, and me unsure about what was necessary to make my floor safe).
2) Selling herself as an ally and mother figure when she is in a certain way my owner (because all my possessions are on her property), and when her interests are almost exactly opposite to those of a friend or relative. I'm not saying it's bad to be a landlord: I'm saying don't tousle my hair if you're going to leave a hole in my floor for six weeks.
3) Relying on mass emails, for example sending rent reminders to the whole building when most individual tenants (me included) had never submitted a late payment; writing things in email that she would have been unwilling (in some cases for good reason) to say in person. Generally overusing the mass email as a contact method.

I felt like the following things made her effective:
1) a "whatever" attitude; being able to admit that her first priority was paying her mortgage.
2) knowledge of the series of practices a landlord takes when a tenant is out of line (i.e. how to handle nonpayment of rent, how to handle multiple noise complaints, what the law says in each case, how she feels about the law)
3) the ability to make the reasonable argument that her property isn't optimized for maximum economic output -- that she wants to own a certain kind of building and while she's out to make a buck, there are some things she won't do.

I can't get a feeling for what you're like or what you do, and it may be the case that you're already a pretty ideal landlord or that the racism and sexism you encounter on a daily basis outstrips anything you might be able to do on your own -- but I think an engaged (i.e. on the premises several times per rent period), honest landlord of any kind will get better results than someone who wants maximum money for minimum hassle.
posted by Valet at 10:06 AM on March 22, 2010

Start being pickier about who you rent to again. It might cost you a bit upfront but it'll save you time and hassle in the long run. Plus getting a culture of abiding by the rules going in your building will help encourage the other tenants to also obey them.
posted by fshgrl at 10:12 AM on March 22, 2010

Have you considered some type of assertiveness training? Right now, you choose to be "nice" and choose to compromise on issues you really don't want to--presumably because it makes you uncomfortable to think about being more aggressive in enforcing your rules. Moreover, you're making assumptions about how your tenants are perceiving you (young woman + minority = not landlord material) that influence how you're acting toward them. I think you need to find a way to lower that noise enough to begin acting confidently in enforcing the rules of your own property.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:50 AM on March 22, 2010

Another option is to give one of your renters a reduction in rent for being the on-site manager. I'm not sure whether this is what you mean by the "property management route," but it's a different idea than contacting a property management company. The amount of the reduction probably depends on the duties you ask them to undertake, so you could match it to the amount you're willing to sacrifice. Two of the places I've lived have had someone who was the handyman (or who waited for the repair technician when necessary), handled lockouts, did general maintenance like lawn mowing, and generally watched over the property. If you chose someone tough who is also respected by the others, that would be ideal.
posted by salvia at 1:50 PM on March 22, 2010

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